Vehicle Basics

What follow are the basic rules for using vehicles in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. They give an overview of the rules that all vehicles use.

  • Drivers: Drivers control vehicles. A driver is a creature with an Intelligence score of at least 3 who is physically able to manipulate a vehicle’s driving device and who is both within the driving spaces of a vehicle and actively manipulating the driving device.
  • Occupants: Any creature riding, driving, serving as crew on, or providing propulsion for a vehicle is considered its occupant.
  • Facing: Unlike characters, vehicles have a forward facing. A vehicle moves best when it moves in the direction of its forward facing.
  • Acceleration/Deceleration: Vehicles must accelerate to reach their maximum speed. Each round, with the proper driving action and a successful check, the driver can increase the vehicle’s movement by its rate of acceleration, as long that value is no greater than the vehicle’s maximum speed. Vehicles must decelerate to slow down and are hard to stop at an exact point.
  • Initiative: A vehicle moves at the start of its driver’s turn. If a vehicle has no driver, it moves on the turn of the last creature that was its driver, or on a turn determined by the GM.
  • Controlling a Vehicle: If a vehicle has a driver, before the driver does anything else on her turn, she must determine what drive action she is taking, and take that action. If the driver takes no action, takes some other action instead of driving the vehicle, or delays or readies an action—or if there is no driver—the vehicle takes the “uncontrolled” action. A driver can only take one action each turn to control a vehicle. Once the driver has selected the action, or takes some other action forcing the vehicle to become uncontrolled, the vehicle moves.
  • Driving Check: When a driver takes a driving action, she must make a driving check to determine the maneuverability and speed of the vehicle that round. The vehicle’s propulsion determines what skill is used for the driving check. A driver can always make a Wisdom check in place of a driving check. The base DCs for all driving checks are DC 5 and DC 20. Use the lower DC when the driver is not in combat and the higher DC when the driver is in combat.
  • In Combat: Vehicles, creatures used as propulsion, and crew members do not threaten any area around them, but their drivers and their non-crew occupants do. Vehicles can enter the spaces of objects and creatures smaller than themselves. Vehicles do not have attacks, but they can—and may be required to—make vehicular bull rush, vehicular overrun, and ramming combat maneuvers.

Full Vehicle Rules

The basic rules give a general idea of how vehicles act in the structure of the combat round, and how they are different than creatures. The following sections go into greater depth about running vehicles in combat.


A vehicle is a special movable object that requires two things to keep it moving—a driver and a method of propulsion. A driver is a creature with an Intelligence score of 3 or more who is physically able to use the vehicle’s driving mechanism. In other words, the creature needs to be the correct size and have the correct anatomy to use whatever tool is used to drive the vehicle. Sometimes a driving mechanism may have its own requirements for use. The driver uses that mechanism and her skill (or her Wisdom) to control the vehicle. Without a driver, a vehicle will not move or will continue moving in a straight line, depending on the vehicle’s state when it becomes driverless. A creature must be the size of a vehicle or smaller in order to drive it.


Drivers, riders, any crew, and creatures that serve as propulsion for a vehicle are all considered occupants. All occupants except for crew members and creatures used for propulsion can take actions and threaten areas as regular creatures. Crew members can take no actions nor threaten areas—their actions and concentration are all consumed by the act of providing propulsion or upkeep for the vehicle.

Propulsion and Driving Checks

Every vehicle has a method of propulsion. Creatures pull chariots and wagons. Boats and ships are propelled by water currents, wind, muscle, or all three forces. Fantastical airships are held aloft by a variety of propulsion sources, both magical and mundane. The method of propulsion typically affects the speed and maneuverability of a vehicle, but more importantly, a vehicle’s propulsion determines the required skill needed to control a vehicle. The following are the general methods of vehicle propulsion, along with what skills are typically needed to drive such vehicles.

Alchemical: Rarely, an alchemical engine may propel a vehicle. Powered by steam or more volatile gases and reagents, a vehicle with an alchemical engine requires either a Knowledge (arcana) or Craft (alchemy) check to be driven. The base DC to drive an alchemical vehicle is 10 higher than normal. Alchemical engines can be extremely powerful, with the ability to propel vehicles hundreds of times their size. They can also be very fickle when driven by creatures uninitiated in the secrets of alchemy. When a driver makes a driving check to control an alchemically propelled vehicle with a Wisdom check or a skill she is not trained in and rolls a natural 1, the vehicle’s alchemical engine gains the broken condition. When it gains the broken condition, the vehicle’s maximum speed and acceleration are both halved, and if the vehicle is currently moving at a rate faster than its new maximum speed, it immediately slows to that speed.

Current: From canoes and large ships to winged gliders, vehicles propelled by currents typically manipulate an already existing power source within or outside of nature—an air current, a water current, or more exotic currents, like conduits of magical energy. Usually, manipulating a current-propelled vehicle requires a skill like Fly, Knowledge (nature), Profession (sailor), Survival, or even Acrobatics or Knowledge (arcana), depending on the nature or makeup of the vehicle and the current the vehicle is manipulating.

Water Current: Vehicles that only rely on currents of water for their propulsion are somewhat limited. These vehicles can only move in the direction and at the speed of a current unless they also employ some other means of propulsion or manipulation, and thus often have an additional form of propulsion, such as muscle in the case of a canoe, and wind in the case of a galley. A current-driven ship such as a river barge with a crew of two or more creatures requires either a Profession (sailor) or Knowledge (nature) check for the driving check, as ships require precision, discipline, and knowledge of the natural world. Smaller water-current vehicles, like canoes, use the Survival skill as the drive skill, as reading the terrain is a very important aspect of maintaining control over those types of vehicles.

If it moves with the current, a water-current vehicle’s maximum speed depends on the speed of the current (often as high as 120 feet). The acceleration of a water-current vehicle is 30 feet.

Air Current: Air-current vehicles are rather diverse. They can be sailing ships, airships, land ships, or even gliders. A vehicle propelled by air with a crew of two or more creatures requires a Profession (sailor) or Knowledge (nature) check as its driving check. Because of their complexity, air-current vehicles always have their driving check DCs increased by 10. Smaller air-current vehicles, such as gliders and wind sleds, use Acrobatics or Fly instead. Much of their control depends on knowledge of f Light or proper movements of the body to control the vehicle. Smaller vehicles (size Large or smaller) can move at a speed of 60 feet, can move at twice that amount when they are moving with the air current, and have an acceleration of 30 feet. Larger vehicles can move at a speed of 90 feet, or twice that amount when they are moving with the air current, and have an acceleration of 30 feet.

Weird Current: Navigating currents of magical energy, burning magma, or the murky rivers of the Shadow Plane could use a number of skills, but likely use skills similar to those needed to operate water-current and air-current vehicles. Weird-current vehicles always have their driving check DCs increased by 10, and sometimes by 15 in more exotic locales and conditions.

Weird-current vehicles typically move at the speed of water or air currents, depending on their nature, but have been known to move twice or even triple those speeds.

Magic: Magic provides some of the most powerful and easy-to-use methods of propelling a vehicle, such as an elemental-powered juggernaut or an airship with an arcane device at its heart. Often simply identifying the properties of the magic item providing propulsion gives a creature the ability to use it, but sometimes more complicated magical devices require Spellcraft or Use Magic Device to drive properly.

Muscle: From a chariot to a slave ship filled with captive rowers, moving a vehicle powered by muscle is all about getting a creature or creatures to push, pull, or otherwise propel the vehicle. Based on the type and intelligence of the creatures moving the vehicle, checks for driving muscle-propelled vehicles can use a diverse number of skills, including, but not limited to, Diplomacy, Handle Animal, Intimidate, and Profession (driver).

Muscle-propelled vehicles come in two forms: pulled and pushed.

Pulled: This type of propulsion involves one or more creature pulling a vehicle. Unless the creature pulling the vehicle is intelligent (Intelligence score of 3 or higher), either Handle Animal or Profession (driver) is used for the driving check (driver’s choice). Intelligent creatures must be convinced with a Diplomacy check (decrease the driving check by 5 if the creature or creatures have the helpful attitude), or forced with an Intimidate check. Forcing an intelligent creature to pull a vehicle increases the DC by 20. A creature can pull a number of vehicle squares equal to the number of squares in the creature’s space to a top speed equal to twice the creature’s speed. It can accelerate its space in vehicle squares up to its speed. For instance, a single horse takes up 4 squares, and can pull a 4-square cart 100 feet each round with an acceleration of 50 feet.

Pushed: Pushed vehicles are the exact opposite of pulled vehicles—vehicles that are pushed by muscle, usually using some form of device manipulated by crew members. Aquatic vehicles are the most likely to be pushed. Lines of rowers use their oars to push the vehicle forward, or a pair of cloud giants may churn a propeller at the aft end of a dirigible. Driving checks for pushed vehicles tend to be Diplomacy, Intimidate, or Handle Animal, depending on the intelligence and attitude of the creatures supplying the muscle for the propulsion. For intelligent creatures, use Diplomacy if the creatures providing the propulsion have an attitude of indifferent, friendly, or helpful (see Diplomacy). Decrease the Diplomacy driving check by 5 if the creatures providing the propulsion are friendly. Intimidate is used for intelligent creatures with an attitude of unfriendly or hostile. Handle Animal is used if the creatures providing the propulsion are not intelligent. A creature that is pushing a vehicle with the proper mechanical help can push between 5 times to 20 times its space in vehicle squares. The maximum speed and acceleration of a muscle-propelled vehicle depends on the mechanism used to assist the pushing—see the sample vehicle statistics for examples.

Mixed Methods of Propulsion: Large and complicated vehicles, such as large sailing ships, often use multiple forms of propulsion. Sometimes multiple methods add flexibility, but often they work in concert to create faster movement. A vehicle with multiple methods of propulsion often requires a large crew to get it going and keep it moving. If a vehicle has two methods of propulsion, it uses its fastest speed and acceleration and then adds half the speed and acceleration of the second-fastest propulsion. Nothing is added for a third form of propulsion, except for the flexibility of having a back-up form of propulsion.

Maneuvering a Vehicle

The wagon in this diagram may move in the forward direction if it succeeds at or fails a driving check when the driver “accelerates,” “decelerates,” “keeps it going,” or “turns” the vehicle. It must move in this direction if it is “uncontrolled.” The wagon may move forward diagonally (either left or right) if the driver succeeds at an "accelerate" or “keep it going” driving check, or if the driver succeeds at or fails a "decelerate" or "turn" driving check. It cannot move forward diagonally if it fails an "accelerate" or “keep it going” driving check or if the vehicle is “uncontrolled.”

If a vehicle can move forward diagonally, it can move directly forward and any direction forward diagonally, and can even mix its diagonal movement in any direction, allowing it to swerve and even zigzag if the driver so desires.

Turning a Vehicle

The wagon in this diagram is performing a left turn after moving forward. When the vehicle makes the turn, pick up the vehicle and place it in the new space, making vehicular maneuvers only once, as if this repositioning was the vehicle’s only movement into its new space.

In order to accomplish this maneuver the driver must succeed at a driving check when making a “turn” action. If she does not succeed at the check, the vehicle can only move forward or forward diagonally.

Optional Rule: Wide Turns

The rules for turning a vehicle are a simple way of getting vehicles to turn on a grid, but when a vehicle turns, it doesn’t do so sharply, even when powered by magic; vehicles rarely make turns evenly. If this simple system involves too much abstraction, you can have vehicles make wide turns.

Have the driver make a driving check as usual. If she succeeds at the check, she can turn the vehicle. When a vehicle makes a turn, it has a chance to make a vehicular overrun or ramming maneuver on any creature within the turning area, which is a square with sides equal to the vehicle’s length, with one vertex touching the front facing of the vehicle on the side opposite to the direction of the turn. In other words, put the square with one side running along the vehicle’s front, perpendicular to its forward facing, and another running the direction of its current forward facing. Place the square so its far corner is within the desired destination of the vehicle. If the turn is successful, the vehicle ends this movement in that area, facing toward the direction of the turn.

The vehicle then makes either vehicular overruns or vehicular bull rushes (if the driver makes the required swift action) on all creatures and objects within the square that are smaller than it, and makes ramming maneuvers on all creatures and objects that are larger than it, including solid objects. It takes a –10 penalty on the vehicular bull rush and vehicular overrun maneuvers. The driver can choose to make these in any order she likes. She makes them one at a time (even after the vehicle is wrecked or comes to a sudden stop), and all effects are cumulative. If the vehicle is wrecked or comes to a sudden stop, the GM decides the final resting location within the turning area, picking the most plausible location given the effects.

Propulsion Devices

Squares of propulsion devices have their own statistics, separate from the vehicle’s. Use the following rules to determine those statistics.

Alchemical Engine: Harvesting the power of steam or some other alchemical reaction, these engines are typically reinforced and difficult to destroy. They can be disabled, and are considered either difficult or extreme devices (see Disable Device) based on the complexity of the device.

Creature: A creature used as propulsion uses its own statistics. During movement and the effects of any combat maneuver, pulling creatures’ spaces are considered vehicle spaces to determine the effects of vehicle maneuvers. Creatures pulling a vehicle can be arranged in teams. This means two creatures of the same type and same size can occupy the same space to pull a vehicle.

Dirigible: Lighter-than-air alchemical gases can be harnessed to give a vehicle flight. Dirigibles are often easier to destroy than the vehicle they convey. Dirigibles have 5 hit points per square and no hardness. They take double the normal damage from acid, electricity, and fire attacks (multiply the damage roll by 2).

Magic Item: Like a creature, a magic item uses its own item statistics.

Sails: Used on magically or alchemically powered airships and on any fast-moving water vehicle, sails are often weaker than the vessels they propel, though they are relatively easy to repair. Taking out the sails is a good way to capture a vessel. Sails have 5 hit points per square and no hardness. They take double the normal damage from acid and fire attacks (multiply the damage roll by 2). While the sails have rigging, such rigging manipulated by the crew, and as such are not considered not driving devices.

Material Hit Points per Square Hardness
Sails 5 0
Dirigible 5 0
Alchemical Engine 20 8
Magically Treated ×2 ×2
Driving Devices

The following are some of the typical driving devices for vehicles, plus their usual Armor Class, hit points, and hardness. A broken driving device increases the driving check of the vehicle by 10. When a driving device is destroyed, a vehicle cannot be driven until the driving device is repaired.

Driving Device AC Hit Points Hardness
Reins 14 10 0
Rigging 9 5 per square of sail 0
Steering Wheel 10 25 5
Throttle 12 15 5
Rudder 10 25 5
Magically Treated ×2 ×2